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For sure that any time you have asked yourself: Does the size really matters? Well, I am going to answer your question if you are thinking about airports. In former posts I have made some measures of some of the biggest airports all around the world; you can look at these posts to see the maps of the airports:
1. Europe
2. North America
3. Asia-Australia
4. South America-Africa-Middle East


Firstly I want to show the airports size´s rank (font: CityLines):

Dallas Fort Worth 4360
Denver International Airport 4200
King Fahd International Airport 3410
Shanghai, Pudong 3350
París, Charles de Gaulle 3100
Madrid Barajas 3050
New International Bangkok Airport 2980
Chicago O´Hare 2610
Cairo International Airport (Wadi al Jandali) 2550
Beijing Internacional airport 2330
Washington-dulles 2255
Amsterdam, Schipol 2090
New Delhi, Indira Gandhi international airport 1770
Toronto Pearson 1660
Salt lake City 1635
Atlanta Airport 1625
New York, JFK 1525
Frankfurt Airport 1470
Tokyo, Haneda 1445
Dubai International Airport 1445
Roma Fiumicino 1395
Los Angeles International 1325
Kansas city 1290
Hong Kong 1285
Londres, Heathrow 1215
Barcelona, El Prat 950
Rio de Janeiro, Galeao International Airport 950
Moscu Sheremetyevo 875
Sao Paulo, Guarulhos International 855
Sydney airport 820
Mexico, Aeropuerto Internacional Ciudad de Mexico 685
Buenos Aires, Pistarini 670
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (Mumbai-Delhi) 575

This means that these 33 airports occupies the awesome area of 61.750 Ha that it is more or less Singapore´s size. The mean area for these airports is 1.871 Ha.

Secondly, I also going to show the passengers´ ranking, this is the following:

Atlanta Airport 92365860
Beijing Internacional airport 77403668
Londres, Heathrow 69433565
Chicago O´Hare 66561023
Tokyo, Haneda 62263025
Los Angeles International 61848449
París, Charles de Gaulle 60970551
Dallas Fort Worth 57806152
Frankfurt Airport 56436255
Hong Kong 53314213
Denver International Airport 52699298
Dubai International Airport 50977960
Amsterdam, Schipol 49754910
Madrid Barajas 49644302
New International Bangkok Airport 47910744
New York, JFK 47854283
Shanghai, Pudong 41450211
Roma Fiumicino 37651222
Sydney airport 36022614
New Delhi, Indira Gandhi international airport 34729467
Barcelona, El Prat 34387597
Toronto Pearson 33434199
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (Mumbai-Delhi) 30439122
Sao Paulo, Guarulhos International 30371131
Mexico, Aeropuerto Internacional Ciudad de Mexico 26368861
Washington-dulles 23056291
Moscu Sheremetyevo 22555309
Salt lake City 20440913
Cairo International Airport (Wadi al Jandali) 16148480
Rio de Janeiro, Galeao International Airport 15184350
Kansas city 10469892
Buenos Aires, Pistarini 8786807
King Fahd International Airport 5267000

It is also amazing that the total amount of people that have used these 33 airports in 2011 is 1.384.007.724 (font Wikipedia). This amount of people is similar to China´s population, wow!

But the real question in this post is if size really matters for air traffic and airport management. Well, I think that if we compare the size of the airports with the amount of people that uses each airport we will have some idea about it. Watch the table below:

Londres, Heathrow 57146,967
Atlanta Airport 56840,529
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (Mumbai-Delhi) 52937,603
Los Angeles International 46678,075
Sydney airport 43930,017
Tokyo, Haneda 43088,599
Hong Kong 41489,66
Mexico, Aeropuerto Internacional Ciudad de Mexico 38494,688
Frankfurt Airport 38392,01
Barcelona, El Prat 36197,471
Sao Paulo, Guarulhos International 35521,791
Dubai International Airport 35278,865
Beijing Internacional airport 33220,458
New York, JFK 31379,858
Roma Fiumicino 26990,123
Moscu Sheremetyevo 25777,496
Chicago O´Hare 25502,308
Amsterdam, Schipol 23806,177
Toronto Pearson 20141,084
París, Charles de Gaulle 19667,92
New Delhi, Indira Gandhi international airport 19621,168
Madrid Barajas 16276,82
New International Bangkok Airport 16077,431
Rio de Janeiro, Galeao International Airport 15983,526
Dallas Fort Worth 13258,292
Buenos Aires, Pistarini 13114,637
Denver International Airport 12547,452
Salt lake City 12502,087
Shanghai, Pudong 12373,197
Washington-dulles 10224,519
Kansas city 8116,1953
Cairo International Airport (Wadi al Jandali) 6332,7373
King Fahd International Airport 1544,5748

In this case we can see the incredible variation of the ratio PAX/AREA. From the most efficient airport, that is London Heathrow with 57.147 passengers managed per Hectare, to the least efficient airport, that is King Fahd International Airport with 1.545 passengers managed in 1 Hectare, there is a difference of 37 times more efficiency for London Heathrow.

Well, also considering that the size ratio between the biggest and the smallest of these airports (Dallas Fort Worth vs Chhatrapati Shivaji International) is 7,5 times, we can see how there is a lack of planning & management in the soil occupation of these infrastructures.

Considering the importance of keeping natural soils, I think this example is pretty clear about how infrastructures can be more or less sustainable on soil occupation.



  1. Don Broussard - Atlanta

    Very interesting study. Two suggestions might improve it even further: 1) rank the floor area of each airport’s terminal buildings to look at efficiency. 2) Identify the runway configurations — airports frequently must build crossing runways to deal with cross-winds for safe aircraft operations — determined totally by local prevailing winds — which increases the needed land area. For example, all 5 of ATL’s runways are essentially parallel with no severe cross-wind issues. BTW, your map has Atlanta ranked as 2nd in passenger volume but your table has it ranked 1st.

    • Thanks for your ideas Don! I will consider them for v2.0.
      I already have solved the problem with the map ranking. I think that now everything is fine
      Thanks a lot

  2. Nice dataset! I’d like to see how the number of flights, and cargo vs. passengers affects the data, as a large cargo airport would take a lot of space without benefit to passengers, and a facility with fewer passengers per flight may also need more space to handle the larger number of aircraft.

    • Hi, I was actually thinking about making this mixed index with cargo and passangers but finally I decided not to do. The reason was that, firstly I would have invented a parameter to mix one kilo of cargo and one kilo of “person”. This could be easy saying that it should be 1=1, but I thought that it could add more noise than information to the global result. Secondly I also thought that those airports were mostly oriented to passenger, although freight is also important.

  3. Thanks for the study. I think would be interesting to introduce a ratio to consider total investment for building every airport. Recently, I compared the investment per passenger in three public transport infrastructures (airport, rail station, and coach station) in a Spanish city and data were amazing.

    • Hi Angel, that will be a really nice analysis, although sometimes is difficult to find data about spending. I´ve just used some data that were easy to find or to measure, but if you have the spending data you can use my area measures to have a better point of view of the investment. I even let you the blog to show your analisys if you want

  4. John N Mitchell

    I am curious to know why the Munich Airport is not listed.
    It’s physical size is 1,575 hectares.
    It’s passengers in 2011 was: 37,782,256

    • Hi John,
      Well, there is not a really solid answer to your question. I wanted to talk about some of the biggest airports, but I also wanted to have some geographical diversity. So I had Frankfurt and I decided that I prefered other airports that were not german (russian or italian in this case). There are two spanish airports just because I am spanish.
      I was most interested in show the difference between land occupation/number of passenger, than in have an accurate list of the biggest airports.
      Thanks for asking

  5. As a transportation planner, I take some issue with this analysis. You’ve made an assumption that a high PAX/AREA = better efficiency, yet you fail to state how this is true and you fail to define how you are measuring “efficiency.” London Heathrow (LHR) is not very well operated and, in fact, has major capacity issues do to its tiny footprint. Its volume-to-capacity ratio, a better gauge on efficiency, is off the charts. Consequently, it performs poorly in bad weather and delays there cascade across the globe. This is why Gatwick was built and expanded, to relieve pressure on LHR, which a disaster waiting to occur. (Anecdotally, ask any pilot or international traveler about their feeling regarding LHR, or look at the data on delays.)

    Airports and their efficiency cannot be measured by their footprint; safety is a better barometer. For example, Denver International Airport (DIA) is so massive in size for a reason: To maintain operational capability during snowstorms and high wind events. In fact, the airport’s runways radiate like a pinwheel in the four cardinal directions so that aircraft are not landing on nearby parallel runways and can land in any wind pattern. Nor are departures and takeoffs handled on shared runways. Traffic at DIA is discretely segregated. Moreover, the greenspace at DIA that your study laments provides a margin for error in which accidents may occur without collateral damage to other aircraft or infrastructure, as was the case when Continental Airlines flight 1404 overran one of DIA’s runways. The accident was contained within what is termed a “runway safety area” and did not involve any additional aircraft or vehicles. Previously, air traffic operating out of Denver was forced to use Stapleton Airport, which had fewer runways, tight taxiways and aprons, and, unsurprisingly, a higher accident rate, including an unfortunately crash in 1987 in which a airliner decided not to apply de-icing material to the wings for a second time due to the problematic maneuvering involved.

    Contrast the experience of flight 1404 at spacious DIA with the experience of Southwest Airlines flight 1248 upon landing in a blizzard at Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW), Chicago’s second airport. MDW is an airport this study would love — it serves as SWA’s midwest hub and is shoehorned into the city. But on this night, the airport’s lack of runway safety area compounded the mistakes the SWA pilots made as the plane skidding through the airport barricades and into traffic on one of the city’s busiest intersections. A young boy died in a vehicle at the intersection. The same crash at DIA would have resulted in injuries; at MDW, the crash resulted in death.

    Size often matters in terms of safety. So when we design an airport, this is the chief concern. Environmental impacts are paramount, but can be mitigated — safety can never be merely mitigated. Spatial analyses via geographic information systems (GIS) software is compelling, but it is only one piece in an analytical puzzle in most transportation projects.

    • Hello K!
      Thanks for your contribution to this post.

      Your point of view is very interesting and I will really like to study it more. You give some examples about security and operation costs of the airports but there is no data that could be useful to compare a large amount of airports. I just explained one index: pax/area and I still say that a higher pax/area index is better than a lower pax/area index. This territorial index is simple, clear and very difficult to manipulate, which are good properties for me. If you have data about operation costs or safety cost we can make other indexes safety_cost/pax or operational_cost/pax to have more dimensions of the “airport planning problem”. I think that this will be very useful to start to understand which airports are better planned. Unfortunately I don´t have operational or safety cost of all these airports, if you can contribute with these figures it could be great to study them.

      Thanks for your point of view!

      • Is K for real? As a world traveller I feel better Flying from LHR than any US airport I have ever been to. It is easily as well managed as any other, if not better. Try before you slag it off pal.


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